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Washington Jail Prisoner Settles Retaliation Claim for $10,000

Washington State’s Pierce County has agreed to pay $10,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed a prisoner was subjected to retaliation in the form of solitary confinement for exercising his First Amendment right of access to the courts.

Neil Grenning filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for events that transpired at the Pierce County Detention and Corrections Center (PCDCC) between April 3, 2002 and October 26, 2004. His problems began when he started to log and report PCDCC’s failure to comply with a class-action consent decree related to the jail’s operations and prisoners’ rights. [See: PLN, March 1997, p.18].

Grenning’s concerns related to religious access, legal access, medical care, laundry and outdoor exercise. Shortly after he wrote letters to the ACLU and filed grievances with PCDCC staff, the mailroom began opening and reviewing his legal mail. He was also subject to several cell searches that resulted in his “legal materials [being] strewn all over the bed and floor, and specific papers disposed of.”

After Grenning witnessed two PCDCC guards severely beat prisoner Gary Brateng, Grenning experienced additional retaliation when he wrote an affidavit about the July 11, 2003 beating for an FBI investigation into the incident.

Several “violent” searches of Grenning’s cell followed, and on November 18, 2003 he was moved to solitary confinement with 24-hour illumination, which also resulted in confiscation of his legal materials. He was returned to his old cell block 12 days later.

On January 2, 2004, Grenning was again placed in solitary confinement. He remained there until he was sent to prison on October 26, 2004. During that period he made several attempts to be removed from solitary. PCDCC officials, he said, were violating their Objective Classification System by claiming he was a security threat because he had a $10 million bond.

PCDCC filed a motion for summary judgment after Grenning filed suit, and the district court granted the motion. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed with respect to Grenning’s claims related to dental care and the constant illumination in his confinement cell, but reversed on the retaliation claim. See: Grenning v. Bisson, 382 Fed.Appx. 574 (9th Cir. 2010).

Up to that point, Grenning had litigated the case pro se. Following remand he was represented by Seattle attorney Harry Williams, who helped reach a settlement on October 17, 2011. The terms of the agreement required Pierce County to pay $7,500 to Human Rights Watch and $2,500 to Grenning “for his costs and filing fees.” See: Grenning v. Bisson, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wash.), Case No. 3:06-cv-05298-RJB.

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Related legal cases

Grenning v. Bisson

Grenning v. Bisson